Kelvin Davis on over-representation of Māori in the (prison) system

An often quoted disparity – Māori make up about 15% of the New Zealand population, but make up 52% of the prison population. This is a sign of a number of problems, including poverty and deprivation, unemployment, lack of education, a culture of violence, Māori gangs, and probably policing and justice systems stacked again either or both poorer people and Māori.

Kelvin Davis has been disappointing as deputy Prime Minister, but as Minister of Corrections and Minister for Crown/Māori Relations he may still be able make a significant contribution to the Government (and to Māori and to New Zealand society) if he can work out how to find some solutions and improve on some of this.

 

His speech to the Justice Summit:


Criminal Justice Summit: Plenary discussion on over-representation of Māori in the system

“I had never been hit or abused, until the day the men came to take me away.  I still don’t even know why.”

That’s how Sam began to tell me his story at a marae in Whangarei.

Sam is now 60. The gang patches on his face still vivid.

His life has been spent in and out of prison. But now, he has had enough.

Enough of the violence. Enough of the P. Enough of ‘The Life.’

Sam was just 10 years-old when strangers arrived at his house in Mangere and took him away. His only crime was that he was born into a whānau of 16 children.

They took him away from his home, away from his family, and put him on a train to a boys’ home in Levin.

He had never known abuse or violence in his life until he walked through their doors.

Four years later – and Sam was put on another train and sent back to Auckland.

He told me that when he stepped off the train in Auckland he had changed so much as a person that it no longer felt like home. He felt like he no longer belonged there.

Within two weeks he had joined a gang – a new home, a new family he would remain with for the next 48 years.

When Sam told me his story – in fact when Māori across the country doing time tell me their stories – I can’t help but ask the question:

Why didn’t we do something? As a government, as Māori: Why didn’t we help?

Why are Māori up and down the country more likely to visit the pad than the marae?

And why are whole whānau turning to crime to feed their kids rather than turning to the government for support?

We took that 10 year-old boy – scared and confused – we took him, we threw him into the system and it spat out a broken young man with nowhere to turn but a life in the gang.

Why did we let that happen to Sam? And why do we still refuse to be bold and brave and do something to help people like Sam today?

We take pride in New Zealand as a country that leads the world in many ways.

Whether it’s our sporting achievements, our science and tech innovation, or our film industry. And we should be proud of these things.

But there is an ugly reality in this country. We are a world leader when it comes to putting people in prison.

We can’t seem to get enough of it.

We have the second highest incarceration rate in the world – and a level of imprisonment that is simply devastating our Māori whānau and communities.

You have all seen the statistics.

Roughly 16 per cent of our country’s population are Māori, yet we make up 51 per cent of all people in prison.

It is worse for our women and our young people.

Wāhine Māori make up around 60 per cent of the female prison population and the figure is similar for the number of young Māori offenders doing time on the inside.

It’s not just imprisonment rates.

Our people are over-represented at every stage of the criminal justice system:

In Oranga Tamariki care; in Youth Justice; criminal convictions; in dealings with the Police, and as victims of crime.

It’s not a new problem.

Successive governments have failed to overcome this challenge, let alone accept it as one that we can and must overcome.

This is personal for me.

I look around this room and I see Māori – professionals, public servants, whānau, leaders and iwi representatives – and I know you feel this too.

These are our people I’m talking about. Over half of all prisoners are Māori and about half of these are from my iwi of Ngāpuhi.

In fact, my tribe of Ngāpuhi are probably the most incarcerated tribe in the world per head of population.

I’ve had whānau in prison. I grew up in a street where a number of people living there went to prison. These guys were my mates: I used to build huts with them; swim in the floods with them; we would play in the paddocks together.

That’s not to excuse the offences these people have committed – but something has to be done to reduce the scale of this problem and the sheer waste of human potential.

So, this is very much a personal issue.

And as the Minister of Corrections: I want answers.

There is only so much you can learn from reports and international evidence, patterns, rates and projections.

I wanted to talk to prisoners.

So I have gone up and down the country, brought together groups of Māori inmates and asked them the simple question:

What do we need to do to help you so that when you leave prison you never come back?

And when I talk about ‘We’ – I mean the Government and Māori together.

I don’t know what I expected – but what I didn’t expect was the openness of each man and woman who spoke.

A woman at Wiri told me she had spent her life in and out of prison.

She had violent outbursts and the scars on her wrists told the story of those days when it all got too much.

Then she talked about an anger management course she had just finished.

She said it had changed her life: She can now communicate with her family, regulate her emotions and control her outbursts.

She then asked me: ‘Why couldn’t I have done this course when I was 15? Gee, my life would have been so different’.

I heard similar stories from the men I sat down with in the Special Treatment Unit at Rimutaka.

One of these men told me the rehabilitation programme they were on had taught him he actually had options when he became angry– options other than expressing that anger and frustration as violence.

Another said he had never even thought about or considered his inner feelings and emotions until he was on this programme – because the way he was raised, talking about feelings or showing vulnerability was not acceptable. It was unthinkable.

And all of them told me the same thing: They don’t want this life for their kids.

Then there’s the young Māori man who told me that when he was released from prison all he wanted to do was go home and see his Mum and Dad – but because he had a Non Association Order and his whole family were in a gang – he couldn’t go home.

He said: ‘I get that they take my freedom away because of the crimes I committed. But they took my whānau too’.

Men in prison tell me how much they benefit from Tikanga Māori courses – that it changes their lives when they learn haka, waiata and karakia.

But when that man goes home changed and wanting to live a new life – before he sits down to eat with his whānau he starts to say karakia and his wife and kids look at him like he’s a stranger.

Just last week, an articulate and polite young Māori man – only 18 years-old – had a tattoo scribbled across his face that read: ‘Trust No One’.

I asked him why he got that tattoo and he replied: ‘No one has done nothing for me, and everyone has let me down. My whānau, my friends and the system’.

Those disappointments and failures are now etched on his face as a constant reminder.

And why would he believe any different?

The system is broken.

It’s not working. And our whānau are hurting the most.

If we genuinely want to see fewer Māori caught in the system as both perpetrators and victims of crime, then we need to fundamentally change our approach to criminal justice.

This summit marks the start of this change.

It’s time as a government, it’s time as Māori that we work together to help our people.

In our communities, in our prisons and when they come out.

There had to be dozens of points in Sam’s life when someone could have stepped in.

And in Sam’s case, the one time we did step in, our intervention sent him down the path that ultimately turned him into a gang member – and not just him, but his whānau, and their whānau too.

In the end, we punished a child whose only crime was being born into a family of 16 children, then we sentenced him to a life of crime.

And we need to own that.

It’s our fault he spent nearly half a century in a gang.

If you think Sam is the exception to the rule – you are wrong.

There are 5000 Sams in our prisons. And they include his children, and his grandchildren.

We need to do something together to create a different future for Māori and for their whanau.

We need to break the cycle, connect them to their people, help them, and have hope for them.

And if we accept that there is a need for change – then we must all be part of that.

We – all of us – need to change the system. But we also need to change.

As a government we need to make sure the system helps and does not hurt Māori further.

We need to make sure those who have found their way into the system leave as better people – not broken people.

And when I visit our prisons full of our Māori men and women, I know that – if we are 51 per cent of the problem – then it must be up to us to lead the solution.

But we can only do it with the support of every person in this room.

As Māori we need to take care of our own, rather than closing our doors. We need to face up to and free ourselves from the violence that many of our people, our whānau struggle with.

Here’s where we can learn something from Sam:

When he heard the boys’ home in Levin had closed, he and his wife jumped in the car and drove back to the place where it all started.

He told me it was something he just had to do.

And it was when he was standing outside the gates that he finally broke down and offered his forgiveness.

He forgave the men who took him away; the boys’ home that broke his spirit; the government and the people who turned their backs on him.

He forgave us.

As a gang member you would expect Sam to be hard – to be strong. But one of the strongest things he’s ever done is to forgive us for the life we gave him, his kids, and his grandkids.

I’ll probably never know why Sam trusted me with his story. I was a stranger to him.

What I do know, is that I feel the weight of carrying his story, telling his story and sharing it with all of you.

And I know that we need to write a new story for our people.

So: What are we going to do? That is my question to all of you here today.

Together, how are we going to take up the challenge that others have been too timid, or too hardened or too short-sighted to accept?

What are we going to do to deserve Sam’s forgiveness?

32 Comments

  1. David

     /  August 22, 2018

    80% of Maori are born outside of wedlock and their teenage birthrate is 5 times the OECD average. 42% of young Maori women smoke which indicates a lack of self care and if you cant care for yourself well…
    Largely criminals are a product of their environment and NZ is a far outlier in the primary focus of our welfare system is whanau given our unique, in the developed world, tribal focused welfare system.
    As Celia Lashlie opined and she is not alone you can pick who is going to be trouble when they are in kindergarten. Too late by the time they get to prison we need to start at contraception.

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  August 22, 2018

    Why 16 children?

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  August 22, 2018

      Why was only Sam taken away ?

      And why should the rest of us need to earn his forgiveness ? I don’t expect hum to ask me to forgive him for bad things that have happened to me.

  3. PDB

     /  August 22, 2018

    The answer is staring everybody in the face…….give them all a no-obligation living wage at taxpayer expense.

    • Blazer

       /  August 22, 2018

      just give them a mundane,mind numbing job,get them into debt to buy things they don’t need and all will be solved.

      Then they can pay tax to pay the interest on debts created by those idle money changers.

      • PDB

         /  August 22, 2018

        All about personal choice Blazer – do you have to do a ‘mind-numbing job’? Are you forced to go into debt to buy things you don’t need?

        Until Maori stop blaming everybody else for their woes and have a good look at themselves then nothing will change for their people. A lot of it comes back to a lack of education, self belief and family support and encouragement. Ironically charter schools were providing just that for some of the Maori students failing our state school system before blind ideology has seen those axed.

        https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11676852

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  August 22, 2018

          A culture of violence as the article highlights handed down through generations. Got to stop brute force being tolerated and respected and replace that with proper human values and skills. Culture change.

          • sorethumb

             /  August 22, 2018

            That’s what got me about the anti-smacking bill. They blamed evryone’s culture for a minority.

        • Blazer

           /  August 22, 2018

          Duff speaks alot of commonsense but perpetuating a failing system is not the answer.
          People need a real purpose in life,a stake in the whole show.

          The idea that life is black and white,good guys vs bad guys is easily seen through.
          Why do people like Greg Boyed check out?

          Why does this occur..’In 2012, an estimated 6,500 former military personnel died by suicide. More veterans succumbed to suicide than were killed in Iraq: 177 active-duty soldiers died by suicide compared to 176 soldiers killed in combat.’

          wonderful world…beautiful..people.

          • PDB

             /  August 22, 2018

            Is it the ‘system’ that is failing (as it seems to work for the vast majority of people) or simply a group of people failing their own?

            • Blazer

               /  August 22, 2018

              the system is a charade=quest for $$$$$$$$$$$$$..that is all that matters.

            • PDB

               /  August 22, 2018

              In terms of Greg Boyed – so sad. Always came across as one of the better & less pretentious of TV presenters.

            • Corky

               /  August 22, 2018

              Switzerland of all places. Lack of Vitamin D. High suicide rate. And assisted suicides since the 40s??

              ttps://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/switzerland-one-worlds-happiest-countries-also-one-europes-suicide-capitals-180949831/

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  August 22, 2018

      I doubt we got the full story on why the children were taken away.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  August 22, 2018

        I agree. It can’t have just been because of the number of them.

  4. PDB

     /  August 22, 2018

    Davis: “If we genuinely want to see fewer Māori caught in the system as both perpetrators and victims of crime, then we need to fundamentally change our approach to criminal justice.”

    In terms of seeing fewer Maori in prison, the large majority who are in there for violent and/or sexual crimes maybe having less police would help?

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  August 22, 2018

      Yes, the operative word there seems to be “caught”. The focus should be on the “crime”. That’s what we want to see less of.

      • PDB

         /  August 22, 2018

        I initially thought he had used the wrong word in ‘caught’ but this statement from him suggests otherwise: ““Because if it’s not unconscious bias, well then it’s conscious bias and we’ve got to make changes to make sure that Māori aren’t particularly picked on, or seen as the ones that are committing all the crime.”

        This suggests his answer is for us to turn more of a blind eye to Maori crimes, most of which are serious crimes, in order to reduce their conviction and imprisonment numbers.

      • Blazer

         /  August 22, 2018

        ‘its not the deed..its not the thought…its not the crime…its…if you get…caught'(TOP)

  5. Gezza

     /  August 22, 2018

    I look around this room and I see Māori – professionals, public servants, whānau, leaders and iwi representatives – and I know you feel this too.

    Ok, so that’s puzzling. What was Anazac Wallace complaining about? Was this speech written in the expectation more Maori would be present than there were? If whanau and iwi representatives weren’t there, why not?

    So I have gone up and down the country, brought together groups of Māori inmates and asked them the simple question: What do we need to do to help you so that when you leave prison you never come back?

    And when I talk about ‘We’ – I mean the Government and Māori together. I don’t know what I expected – but what I didn’t expect was the openness of each man and woman who spoke.

    Ok, good. It’s not all pakeha colonialism’s fault so only the government’s job to fix it …

    A woman at Wiri told me she had spent her life in and out of prison. She had violent outbursts and the scars on her wrists told the story of those days when it all got too much.

    Then she talked about an anger management course she had just finished. She said it had changed her life: She can now communicate with her family, regulate her emotions and control her outbursts. She then asked me: ‘Why couldn’t I have done this course when I was 15? Gee, my life would have been so different’.

    One … told me the rehabilitation programme … taught him he actually had options when he became angry other …than violence. Another said he had never even thought about or considered his inner feelings and emotions until he was on this programme – because the way he was raised, talking about feelings or showing vulnerability was not acceptable. It was unthinkable.

    And all of them told me the same thing: They don’t want this life for their kids.

    Tautako that.

    Then there’s the young Māori man who told me that when he was released from prison all he wanted to do was go home and see his Mum and Dad – but because he had a Non Association Order and his whole family were in a gang – he couldn’t go home. He said: ‘I get that they take my freedom away because of the crimes I committed. But they took my whānau too’.

    The gang’s taken your whanau. We all need to do something about that.

    Just last week, an articulate and polite young Māori man – only 18 years-old – had a tattoo scribbled across his face that read: ‘Trust No One’. I asked him why he got that tattoo and he replied: ‘No one has done nothing for me, and everyone has let me down. My whānau, my friends and the system’.

    Just last week, an articulate and polite young Māori man – only 18 years-old – had a tattoo scribbled across his face that read: ‘Trust No One’. I asked him why he got that tattoo and he replied: ‘No one has done nothing for me, and everyone has let me down. My whānau, my friends and the system’.

    Who had you and raised you? We need to be looking at where it started to go wrong for you.

    The system is broken. It’s not working. And our whānau are hurting the most. If we genuinely want to see fewer Māori caught in the system as both perpetrators and victims of crime, then we need to fundamentally change our approach to criminal justice.

    We need to change our approach to more than just criminal justice. And so do Maori.

    This summit marks the start of this change. It’s time as a government, it’s time as Māori that we work together to help our people. In our communities, in our prisons and when they come out.

    This is going to take money – but it needs to be spent. It is also going to need employers and educators and supervisors, counsellors, new friends, mentors, aroha – and whakama where its needed.

    And in Sam’s case, the one time we did step in, our intervention sent him down the path that ultimately turned him into a gang member – and not just him, but his whānau, and their whānau too. In the end, we punished a child whose only crime was being born into a family of 16 children, then we sentenced him to a life of crime. And we need to own that. It’s our fault he spent nearly half a century in a gang.

    Ok, the system screwed Sam up and that has to be acknowleged, apologised for and not repeated.

    If you think Sam is the exception to the rule – you are wrong. There are 5000 Sams in our prisons. And they include his children, and his grandchildren.

    No. There are not 5000 Sams in our prisons. This is fake news. It doesn’t help deal with the problem to blame what happened to Sam for the other 4999. Maybe a few of them, not all of them.

    As a government we need to make sure the system helps and does not hurt Māori further. We need to make sure those who have found their way into the system leave as better people – not broken people. And when I visit our prisons full of our Māori men and women, I know that – if we are 51 per cent of the problem – then it must be up to us to lead the solution.

    But we can only do it with the support of every person in this room. As Māori we need to take care of our own, rather than closing our doors. We need to face up to and free ourselves from the violence that many of our people, our whānau struggle with.

    Tautoko that.

    When he heard the boys’ home in Levin had closed, [Sam] and his wife jumped in the car and drove back to the place where it all started. And it was when he was standing outside the gates that he finally broke down and offered his forgiveness.He forgave the men who took him away; the boys’ home that broke his spirit; the government and the people who turned their backs on him. He forgave us.

    As a gang member you would expect Sam to be hard – to be strong. But one of the strongest things he’s ever done is to forgive us for the life we gave him, his kids, and his grandkids.

    Good. It was a long time ago & we don’t do that any more. Thank you, Sam.

    And I know that we need to write a new story for our people. So: What are we going to do? That is my question to all of you here today. Together, how are we going to take up the challenge that others have been too timid, or too hardened or too short-sighted to accept?

    You are going to have to spend money in the short term and do something about the gangs.

    What are we going to do to deserve Sam’s forgiveness?

    Sam has forgiven the people who caused him his harm. He has moved on to do something worthwhile with his life. That’s what we need to do is help these broken people to do. But that means they have to want to, too.

  6. sorethumb

     /  August 22, 2018

    Fewer people in prison, more rehabilitation, more Police on the beat. That’s all well and good. But will it happen and will it make any difference? Criminologist Greg Newbold thinks the Justice Summit is a waste of time.
    https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/thepanel/audio/2018659262/will-justice-summit-achieve-anything

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  August 22, 2018

      So he wasn’t invited according to Garrett.

      • Gezza

         /  August 22, 2018

        No – Newbold WAS invited. He says so in the audio clip.

        He didn’t go because he’s been to so many of these over the years and they all turned out to be talk fests by people who weren’t criminologists or involved in any meaningful way with prisoner rehabilitation & simply don’t know what they are talking about.

        None of these previous summits have ever made a blind bit of difference to the re-offending / recidivism rate & he wasn’t going to waste his time on any more of them.

        He’s an interesting listen.

  1. Kelvin Davis on over-representation of Māori in the system — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition